Coaches and educators are no strangers to calling audibles, changing lesson plans in the middle of a class, or scrapping plays to draw up new ones in the moment. There has been no greater test of our collective ability to adapt and create new ways to accomplish the same goals than our current COVID-19 quarantine.
Coaches, administrators and communities have stepped up – creating moments of connection in a time when physical connection can be life threatening.
Dede Allen, tennis program director and girls varsity coach at Episcopal School of Jacksonville (Florida), actively participated in her school’s first audible in the initial days and weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“In early February, we didn’t think much of this virus – Washington was so far away from Florida,” Allen said. “Thankfully, our school administrators were very aware and started work on a preparedness plan. An early notice from administration was sent out to all faculty, staff and families in late February. Behind the scenes teachers were quietly preparing for online Zoom classes.”
As a coach, Allen had the added task of managing the tennis program through this transition. During the tennis season, Allen typically creates a weekly newsletter filled with match recaps and team announcements. The newsletter is still a weekly task, but the content has shifted to include assignments such as: tennis crossword puzzles, design your own drills, create your own practice plan and selfie fitness scavenger hunts.
“We all want to survive this, but normal may no longer be going back to the way things were – we will all need to change some of our current practices,” Allen said.
As one coach finds creative solutions to engage her athletes weekly, coaches associations are also focused on finding ways to help coaches stay connected.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) convened the High School Leadership Council led by Nancy Dorsey to engage each other and find ways to take action during this uncertain time. Dorsey is the head volleyball coach at St. James Academy in Lenexa, Kansas and serves as the AVCA High School/Interscholastic Board Representative.
“The high school leadership council is hoping to give comprehensive ideas to high school coaches to help them come up with ideas to engage their players, teams and community,” Dorsey said. “This time is challenging on many levels but we know this is a temporary challenge and with the passion our leaders have in this sport we look to help coaches prepare for when they can get back on the court with their players.”
The outcome of the work of the AVCA High School Leadership Council is an extensive shareable list of activities for coaches to use to engage and stay connected to their athletes. Volleyball coaches can access this list here and find a way to create moments of connection through virtual dance parties, Zoom check-ins, asking athletes to read children’s books and sharing on social media, using TikTok to create volleyball skill challenge videos and so much more.
In an effort to create moments of connection and display support for student-athletes across the state of Rhode Island, Michael Lunney, Assistant Executive Director of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL), began the “RIIL Driveway Trick Shot Challenge.”
“When the reality of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis began to sink in, our thoughts immediately shifted to finding ways to support our student-athletes and member schools in a different way,” Lunney said. “The Rhode Island state motto is Hope, which is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. We wanted to rally around the concept of Hope and somehow encourage our member schools to stay connected and unified even though they are forced to be apart.”
This desire to bring hope in a time of such uncertainty through sport and creativity felt fitting to Lunney. So, he found himself on his front deck sinking a hook shot on his driveway basketball hoop. When his first attempt at issuing the challenge through social media didn’t gain the momentum he was hoping for, Lunney tried again.
“Since then, we’ve received a steady stream of trick shot videos from young children, student-athletes, coaches, teachers and school administrators,” Lunney said. “Chariho High School Principal Craig MacKenzie even used his trick shot video to challenge others to raise funds for Rhode Island nurses who are working tirelessly on the frontlines to keep us safe. We’d love to see other states get involved by posting their trick shot videos and tagging us on Twitter @RIIL_sports.”
Communities are also taking an active role in bringing hope and recognizing the seasons lost by COVID-19. It has been reported all over the country that communities are turning on stadium lights as a part of the #BeALight campaign to recognize the seniors who are missing their senior seasons. While the 2020 seniors in spring sports and activities will not get the traditional send-off they anticipated when they stepped on campus in the fall of 2019, their communities are finding a way to express their gratitude.
While coaches and administrators are tirelessly finding new ways to bring normalcy and hope through new methods of engagement, there is a very sad reality that we are losing friends, families, coaches and athletic administrators to this pandemic.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) lost a member of its family when Paul Loggan, athletic director at North Central High School, lost his battle with COVID-19 in early April.
“The passing of Paul will have both a debilitating and positive effect on our high school community,” IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said. “On one hand, we’ve lost a great school administrator who was an even better husband, father and friend. That pain will last for quite some time to those of us that knew him well. On the other hand, the closeness of his passing reminds us of the fragility of life and how precious our time on this earth truly is. It causes us to pause and reflect on what is really important and the value of every human life. If that makes us a better, more caring and empathetic society, then his life adds even more value.”
In the same way the glow of stadium lights represented the seasons lost, on April 13, 2020 the stadium lights at high schools across Indiana shined for a special life lost.
“Tonight, lights in football stadiums across our great state are burning bright for our friend Paul Loggan. I can’t think of a better tribute saluting a life of service and selflessness. Thank you, Indiana. #respect,” Cox said via Twitter.
Supportive coaches, athletic administrators and school communities across the country are doing what they can to provide stability, opportunities to engage, hope and support to their student- athletes. We can do this together.
Lindsey Atkinson is director of sports/communications associate at the National Federation of State High School Associations.